Volkswagen's Polo GTI has, since its relatively recent introduction in 2007, been a nameplate that has shot up the chartts in popularity and now, even despite the introduction of several talented newcomers, is still the perennial choice for the discerning hot hatch aficionado.
The elements upon which the success story of the “baby GTI” lie are as unique as you can find in a performance vehicle. Nestled under the bonnet you'll find a technological tour-de-force – a 1.4L four cylinder engine that features both a turbocharger and supercharger. This allows all but instantaneous torque no matter where you happen to be in the rev range while all being driven through the Volkswagen Group's signature 7 speed DSG gearbox – the only gearbox choice on offer.
The engine is a corker and while 132kw and 250nm may not sound earth shattering, the way it's delivered with persuade you into thinking it is packing a lot more than advertised! Kicking in extremely low in the revs, the supercharger hits hard with a delicious whine hard enough to wheelspin if you're too liberal with the throttle before seamlessly handing duties to the turbocharger for thrust at the top end.
The gearbox deserves special mention. While in standard drive mode, gears are almost always correctly selected and will drop down intuitively on hills and braking for corners. The available Sport mode amplifies this character to turn it into a screaming bundle of energy that doesn't just coax you into driving hard, it all but shunts you bodily in the back. Paddle-shifters are also standard fit and the ability to choose your own gears definitely makes the lack of a manual option a little more bearable.
Stepping inside, the pervading ambience is one of quality. The interior, while not loaded with equipment by modern standards, is full of the attention to detail and finer touches which keep many returning to European vehicles, despite the price premium. The soft touch plastic covers most of the dash with appealing textures, the piano black highlights in the center stack are appealing to the eye and the aluminium finishes contrast nicely to create and inviting and sporting cabin. The flat bottom steering wheel is covered in a high quality leather, both in normal and perforated guise and is held together with red stitching that is something a little special all on its own. Other equipment inside includes a 6.5” touchscreen for phone and media, rain sensing wipers, tartan trimmed sports bucket seats (though leather and alcantara can be optioned), cruise control, USB functionality, climate control and trip meters. My personal vehicle was optioned with the Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights which are a worthwhile addition, while the Panoramic glass sunroof I ended up with can easily be glossed over on the options list to save both weight and cost.
From a buyer's perspective, the Polo covers most of the bases desired by shoppers today including a 3 year / 100,000km warranty with matching roadside assistance. On top of this, there's the peace of mind afforded by capped price servicing for the first 6 services to ease former complaints about the cost of servicing with the brand. At 12 month or 15,000km intervals, owners can be assured they'll know what they are up for 6 years after delivery of the vehicle.
As an owner, the first 14,000km have been all but pain free, with an early tyre puncture and an intermittent vibration from the sound tube from the engine at certain RPM being my only issues. While there are reports of excess oil consumption and constant rumours regarding weakness of the DSG gearboxes, I can attest to neither of these being present to date. Materials inside have remained strong, solid and resistant to scuffing and no creaks and rattles have become apparent in the 9 months since it rolled off the showroom floor. Overall, as my first from Volkswagen, it has been a satisfying introduction to the brand and I have no regrets with my decision over on of its fiercest competitors; the Ford Fiesta ST.
At a final cost of $33,490 on road with options included, the 2014 Volkswagen Polo GTI is exceptional buying for the driver who wants engagement, comfort and quality all wrapped up in a sharp little hatchback.